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Mountainside rescue recalled
Rescuers were 'holding onto trees trying to get up, and crawling on our knees'
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Rescue personnel search Thursday for two men who were lost in a wooded area in the Vesta community of Patrick County. Locating the men and getting them back up to high ground was an overnight effort that involved the cooperation of numerous groups, said Patrick County Emergency Service Coordinator Steve Allen. (Contributed photo)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The rescue last week of two Bassett men who were lost overnight on a Patrick County mountainside took place in an area with terrain so steep it seemed close to vertical, according to rescue personnel.

Efforts to locate the men began Wednesday night and continued into Thursday morning. After they were found, the two-hour process of climbing up the mountainside to get them to safety involved “some of the worst terrain we’ve got in this county,” said Patrick County Emergency Service Coordinator Steve Allen. “We were actually holding onto trees trying to get up, and crawling on our knees trying to get back up (the mountain).”

The search began at about 7:22 p.m. Wednesday, when the Patrick County 911 Center received a call about men lost in the Vesta area.

Officials who were dispatched found one man, who was identified in a news release as Tony Wayne Craig of Bassett, on Cloudbreak Road in Vesta. Craig told them two other men were missing.

Those men were identified in the release as Kenneth Darnell Mitchem and Kevin Russell East, both also of Bassett. Authorities alleged that the three had been in the area hunting for ginseng, a valuable root used in natural medicine. (See related story.)

Allen said he got cell phone coordinates for the missing men and used a software program to determine the area in which the phone was located.

After an unsuccessful effort to pinpoint the men’s location at the foot of the mountain in Woolwine, the rescuers returned to the mountain’s top in Vesta around 1:30 a.m. By 4 a.m., they were joined by a search-and-rescue team from Blacksburg. A command center was set up at Faith Baptist Church on Cloudbreak Road.

A fresh team arrived at daybreak and went in on Cloudbreak Road, Allen said. An hour to 90 minutes later, team members radioed to say they had found the men. They were located in an area near Smith River Falls, according to the news release.

One man was suffering from a low body temperature and dehydration, Allen said. He explained that overnight, “it had drizzled rain ,and the temperature was down in the 40s.”

Neither man was injured otherwise, Allen added.

Allen and sheriff’s deputies took warm fluids from the Vesta Rescue Squad and IV equipment down the mountainside to the men.

“It was straight downhill” to where the men had been found in a ravine or drainage runoff, said deputy Tyler Wilson, who helped with the rescue.

Deputy Winfred Hill said it was about a mile down the mountain, and rescuers slid much of the way on slick rocks and earth.

“We were covered with mud,” Hill recalled.

The team that found the men “had already started a fire, and they used emergency blankets to help warm them up,” Allen said.

Rescuers also gave the men IVs and energy bars. After the dehydrated man was stabilized and the men’s clothing was somewhat drier, “we started back out of the mountain at 12:30 p.m., and got back to the top at 2:30 (p.m.),” Allen said.

When the rescuers and the men were about a third of the way from the top, Allen said, they were able to use rappelling equipment from the Meadows of Dan Fire Department and search-and-rescue teams.

The man who required medical attention on site was tired and weak, and some of the equipment was used to make a harness for him, Allen said.

Fashioned from 25 feet of one-inch webbing, the harness allowed rescuers on top of the mountain to help pull the man up, “so he wouldn’t have to use as much energy,” Allen said.

Once they were back on high ground, the men were taken to Pioneer Hospital in Stuart.

Allen said he did not know their conditions Friday, but he speculated that at least two of the three men were treated and released.

He did, however, know one thing for certain.

“This wasn’t any one resource” or any single person who brought the incident to an end, Allen said.

Search teams from out of the area were deployed through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s emergency operations plan, he said.

“They sent out the request and got the teams in for us,” Allen said of the teams that were made up of two or three.

Emergency crews from areas of the county that included Vesta, Smith River, Fairystone, Meadows of Dan, and Woolwine also responded, as did the Virginia State Police, the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, Patrick authorities and the Mountain Top Auxiliary. The latter group provided food and support to rescuers, Allen said.


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